An Introduction to Phase Level Expectations

A few weeks ago, we discussed how, at LiHigh School, like at every other school in the state, “students are required to demonstrate a certain number of skills before they receive their high-school diploma.”

Because this is a new system for parents and students, we thought we’d take a few moments to provide a basic introduction to our graduation requirements, which we call our Phase Level Expectations (PLEs).

The PLEs are divided into six main categories:

  1. General Expectations: These PLEs cover areas related to college and work prep, community service, internships, and independent projects.
  2. Communications: These PLEs cover skills related to reading, writing, listening, speaking, creative expression, advocacy, and technology.
  3. Empirical Reasoning: These PLEs take students through the scientific method, teaching them how to ask relevant questions, frame hypotheses, conduct experiments, collect data, and question their conclusions.
  4. Personal Qualities: These PLEs relate to the students’ social-emotional growth, asking them to demonstrate skills related to responsibility, honesty, work ethic, and more.
  5. Quantitative Reasoning: These PLEs ask our students to think through problems using numbers, tables, charts, and diagrams. Students develop skills related to algebraic thinking, abstract reasoning, and attending to precision.
  6. Social Reasoning: These PLEs require students to consider the historic and social aspects of whatever topic interests them, to look at diverse viewpoints, consider the ethics of their actions, and develop skills for interpersonal relationships.

The PLEs for each category are divided into three different phase levels. Students in Phase Level 1 need a lot of support as they develop their skills; students in Phase Level 2 need some support as they build their skills, but they’ve also started to gain some independent-learning skills that help them succeed on their own; and students in Phase Level 3 prepare for life after LiHigh School, when they’ll be required to be self-motivated, responsible, and capable members of society.

The PLEs In Action

Let’s take a look at a specific PLE to see how it works in action.

Empirical Reasoning: Create Relevant Questions
Demonstrate the ability to brainstorm questions of interest whose answers are relevant to the general community.

One of the first skills an empiricist needs to develop is the ability to conceive of questions that are relevant to a particular topic or community. A lot of our younger students want to ask basic questions like, “Why is the sky blue?” or “Why do the leaves change color?” But we challenge them to take their thinking further by getting them to contextualize their questions for a particular community.

For example, most of the people on the streets of our little village could probably explain why the sky is blue, but if you asked them why Vermont never seems to have a moderate winter anymore — days seem to be either colder or warmer than the historic record — and whether that change in seasonal weather affects the economy of our state (fall and winter tourism are a large driver of the Vermont economy), then the question may start to have real relevance for the community.

This particular PLE is something that a student can complete independently or as part of a class. Teachers create opportunities for various PLEs in their classes, but not every PLE can be met through a class. The mission of LiHigh School is “to create healthy, confident learners who can engage with their community,” and part of that involves encouraging the students to fulfill their responsibilities on their own. To that end, some of our PLEs can only be met through independent means.

Tracking the PLEs

Once every couple of weeks (or more often when we can), each student’s case manager sits with the student’s binder and tries to match the work they’ve been doing in their classes or on their projects with their PLEs. In addition, teachers work with students on a daily basis to help them make progress on the PLEs.

When students complete a piece of work or a series of works, they place them in their binder or share them online with their advisor or case manager. If the case manager assesses the work to be satisfactory evidence for a PLE, the case manager enters the assessment into our tracking system. Every teacher has access to the tracking system, allowing them to customize their assignments for each student, all with an eye toward helping them demonstrate their PLEs as quickly as possible.

From Phase to Phase to Graduation

After the student completes all of the PLEs for their Phase Level — which usually takes at least a couple of years — the student makes a Phase Transition Exhibition, where they meet with their Learning Plan team to defend their body of work and demonstrate their ability to take on more independence when it comes to their learning.

Students who successfully complete the exhibition are promoted to the next Phase Level, or in the case of students transitioning out of Phase Level 3, they receive their high-school diploma.

A Progressive Model

The system we use to implement, track, and assess our PLEs is almost always changing. The system itself is subject to the rulings of our School Congress, and proposals are made on a semi-regular basis that aim to improve it. Every year, a committee made up primarily of students, guided by one or two staff members and the latest research on best practices for middle and high school students, reviews the PLEs and makes suggestions for changes that will take effect in the following year.

Many parents — most of whom attended a school where students earned credits toward graduation just by sitting in the right seat and not failing to complete (as adequately as necessary) the majority of their assignments — struggle with the idea that students have to demonstrate real skills before they can move forward in their education. While LiHigh School has been voluntarily using some version of this model since 2011, we are now required to use it by the laws of Vermont.

We hope this clears up some of the confusion around our PLEs, but if you still have any questions or concerns, please talk to your student’s case manager.

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